ADDIS ABABA: The United States Thursday slammed “harsh” sentences handed down to an Ethiopian blogger and an opposition leader, voicing concerns about the “politicized prosecution” of government critics.
The US was “deeply disappointed” that Ethiopia’s federal supreme court upheld the men’s “conviction and harsh sentencing,” acting deputy State Department spokesman Patrick Ventrell said.
“Today’s decision further reinforces our serious concern about Ethiopia’s politicized prosecution of those critical of the government and ruling party, including under the anti-terrorism proclamation.”
Ventrell stressed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights gives everyone “a right to freedom of opinion and expression, and that this right includes the freedom to hold opinions without interference.”
Upholding such freedoms “is essential if Ethiopia is to realize its stated goal of being a democratic state,” he added.
However, he could not say if the court’s decision would impact a planned trip to Ethiopia by US Secretary of State John Kerry at the end of May.
The court dismissed the appeal from the blogger and opposition leader Andualem Arage, who were imprisoned last year on what supporters say are trumped-up terrorism charges.
“The sentencing is still correct so there is no reduction,” said Supreme Court judge Dagne Melaku, confirming the blogger’s jail term of 18 years and Arage’s life sentence.
One of the charges – serving as a leader of a terrorist organization – was dropped, but had no affect on sentencing.
After the ruling, Nega made an emotional appeal to the court which was crowded with family, friends and diplomats.
“The truth will set us free,” he said. “We want the Ethiopian public to know that the truth will reveal itself, it’s only a matter of time.” Both men are accused of links to the outlawed opposition group Ginbot 7.
Activists close by the court told Bikyanews.com that they were “angry beyond belief.
“I just want to over to the court and burn it down,” said one activist, a 24-year-old university student. “We are supposed to become a better country and more open and tolerant, but we are not really. It is horrible.”